An Atelier is an artisan’s workshop. Historically, an artist would work in his studio with his assistants and apprentices, with all the work being produced there being credited to his name.

École des beaux arts

École des beaux arts

Today it is commonplace to see the term “Atelier Method” used to describe a type of fine art instruction. A professional artist who works with a small number of students, training, rather than teaching them in, typically, representational or figurative art.

Students are given tasks of increasing levels of difficulty as they build up their skills. Many courses begin with drawing (often based on Charles Bargue’s Cours De Dessin or copies after the old masters), followed by cast drawing, and grisaille painting (painting in black and white), still life painting with a limited palette, and finally portraiture and figure painting using an extended palette. A student will typically have life drawing classes throughout the duration of his studies.


A large part of painting is drawing, especially to a realist painter, and today there are many techniques available to an artist to get the drawing down. Some choose to use comparative measurements, others a grid system (over an original drawing or a photograph), some prefer the ‘sight-size’ method, others may project images onto a canvas and paint from it directly. All of these methods are perfectly valid, but I prefer to work sight-size.

The “sight-size” method of working is simply a matter of positioning the easel in a certain way to either obtain a larger or smaller image. The closer the easel is to the subject, the closer the painting or drawing will be to the size of the subject. The further the easel is from the subject, the smaller the object will be in the painting. If the easel sits next to the subject, the painting will be life size.

Portrait class

Here is an example. You will note how the size of the model in the paintings are the same size as the model is in real life.

Still life setup

You may also combine sight size and comparative measurements. Here is an example of a still life. I loved the long horizontal format of this set-up but I wanted the pot to be slightly bigger in my painting. So I painted the pot using comparative measurements and sight-sized everything else.

We sight-size our drawings in the figure class and our easels are placed in a semi-circle several feet from the

model stand. The drawings are therefore smaller than life-size .

If you would like your painting to be larger than life size, then you place the easel behind the subject. Here is a painting I did sight-size but the tomato was about 45 cm wide in the final painting. I stood right in front of the tomato – it was almost touching my nose!

Limited Palette

By limiting the colours we put out on the palette, students are able to develop a greater understanding of tonality and form, as well as the luxury of being able to work at a faster pace. We have developed an approach to the limited palette, which all students at the Atelier Canova are taught to work with. You can find out more in this American Artist magazine article